LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) – The pendulum in the race for Kentucky's senate seat is swinging ever-so-slightly toward Sen. Mitch McConnell over his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, according to the latest Bluegrass Poll.
The poll - conducted for WKYT-TV, the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Louisville Courier-Journal, and WHAS-TV - found the longtime Kentucky senator's re-election bid leading by two percentage points in both a head-to-head race with Grimes and a three-way race with Libertarian David Patterson.
If McConnell and Grimes were the only two names on the ballot, the Bluegrass Poll found the Senate minority leader leads Grimes 47 to 45 percent. Eight percent of the 800 people polled said they remain undecided.
"Compared to our Bluegrass Polls in February and May, this is the most favorable yet for Sen. McConnell," said WKYT political editor Bill Bryant. "In February, Alison Lundergan Grimes was ahead by four percentage points. That lead diminished to just one in May. There's little question the campaign ads are having their effect in what's one of the most closely watched in the country and the most expensive campaign ever in Kentucky."
The July results also mark the first Bluegrass Poll since the May Republican primary which McConnell beat Louisville businessman Matt Bevin.
"It does seem to reflect a natural progression that a party, a candidate would take after a contentious primary. Remember we saw Sen. McConnell and Matt Bevin really going at it for several months. And during those months, we saw Alison Lundergan Grimes maintaining a lead over Mitch McConnell," said Sam Youngman, political writer for The Herald-Leader.
The Bluegrass Poll also found McConnell's favorable opinion among those polled up as well to 36 percent. It was only 29 percent 10 weeks ago.
"He really had no place to go but up," said Youngman. "After months and months of advertising, it's not just attack Secretary Grimes on issues like coal, it's also a lot of ads that have pushed Sen. McConnell as someone who is fighting for Kentucky, We are starting to see a breakthrough there."
McConnell's challenge remains his 43-percent unfavorable rating.
Just like McConnell, Grimes scored 36 percent in favorability. At 33 percent, her unfavorable score was 10 percentage points lower than McConnell's.
On the issues, 43 percent of likely Kentucky voters think McConnell would do the better job of the delicate balance of protecting coal jobs and the environment while it's a tie between McConnell and Grimes for who's most trusted to keep Medicare financially stable. Grimes leads McConnell -- 41 to 37 percent -- when it comes to who do you trust most to create jobs.
With more than three months away from election day, a lot can change. The Bluegrass Poll found one in four voters said they might change their minds about who to vote for on election day.
"Another challenge for Grimes is that the gender gap has virtually disappeared. Earlier she had enjoyed a significant advantage among women voters," Bryant said. "Grimes can take comfort in voters identifying jobs as a top issue and they give her an advantage on that."
"I was very surprised by one finding in this poll. It's that Sen. McConnell has virtually erased the gender gap. Secretary Grimes has made winning women -- 53 percent of the vote -- one of her top priorities," said Youngman. "And in this most recent poll, we have seen it's a one point margin. Forty-seven percent to 46 percent of women favor Grimes over McConnell."
McConnell's 1984 election to the U.S. Senate marked the first time a Republican won a statewide office in Kentucky since 1968. In 2006, Republicans elected him to be the their leader in the Senate.
In 2011, Grimes made her first step into politics by entering the race to replace former Secretary of State Trey Grayson. She went on to beat Gov. Steve Beshear's appointee to finish Grayson's term in the Democratic primary and then soundly beat the Republican businessman Bill Johnson in the general election that focused highly on requiring photo IDs in order to vote.
Before politics, Grimes was a Lexington attorney.
SurveyUSA interviewed 800 state of Kentucky adults July 18 through July 23. Of the adults, 714 were registered to vote. Of the registered, 604 were determined by SurveyUSA to be likely to vote in the November 4 election for U.S. Senate. This research was conducted using blended sample, mixed mode. Respondents reachable on a home telephone (73 percent of likely voters) were interviewed on their home telephone in the recorded voice of a professional announcer. Respondents not reachable on a home telephone (27 percent of likely voters) were shown a questionnaire on their smartphone, tablet or other electronic device.